“One of the lessons of this war is that we should listen to those who know Putin,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in last month’s EU State of the Union address. “They have been telling us for years that Putin will not stop.”
Since February, the Baltics and Poland have repeatedly called for more and faster military aid, including more powerful offensive weapons, but have been rejected by the US and Western European Union states, who want to make it clear that they are not directly involved in the incident with Russia. conflict.
Slowly, that began to change after Putin repeatedly proved his wary neighbors right.
The Russian president’s shocking escalation on Monday, when dozens of missiles were fired at Ukrainian civilian targets, including power stations, was condemned worldwide. Western leaders are beginning to admit that they may need to take more decisive steps to secure victory in Ukraine.
Ahead of a key NATO meeting in Brussels on Wednesday and Thursday, the leaders of the Baltic states called on the West to expand weapons supplies to Kyiv, especially air defenses. The NATO Ukraine Contact Group met in Brussels on Wednesday and NATO defense ministers on Thursday.
But in a sign that their easternmost allies have made progress, G7 leaders issued a strong statement on Tuesday, backing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s call for a “just peace” and not allowing surrender to Putin’s demands. The G7 insists on restoring Ukraine’s sovereign territory, safeguarding Ukraine’s future security and Russia-funded reconstruction efforts.
Still, the Baltic leaders insist that more must be done.
Estonian Prime Minister Kayakaras and former German Defense Minister von der Leyen stood in the town of Narva, about 100 yards from Estonia’s border with Russia, on Tuesday, sending a strong signal to the Kremlin that its escalation was not undermining Western support for Ukraine.
Callas called for more military assistance to Ukraine as soon as possible, especially modern anti-missile and air defense systems.
“Ukraine’s success on the battlefield means we’ve been on the right track, and we have to capitalize on that momentum,” Karas wrote in an email to The Washington Post after appearing with von der Leyen. “It has to translate into growing support for Ukraine’s soldiers, economy and people. Especially now that Russia is escalating in the worst way since February 24.”
“Estonia knows firsthand what the Russian occupation looks like,” Karas added. “We know that peace under occupation does not mean the end of atrocities, but more atrocities.”
Baltic leaders have long argued that sanctions imposed by the West in 2014 after Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea showed a lack of resolve in the West over the land grab with the Russian president. European leaders seem to think that the Baltic states have been so traumatized by the Soviet occupation that they cannot be objective.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said: “Just kidding, you know, we call it ‘West Springing’.” After 50 years of occupation, you understandably have trust issues with a country that has occupied you.”
“For us in the Baltic, it all boils down to the concept of appeasement: basically we can appease Russia,” Landsbergis continued. “For us, it’s always been very clear, black and white. If one country is in a hurry to cross the border of another, they are aggressors, and if not stopped, they will do it again. They are not stopped.”
“This concept is very common, this concept of a peaceful settlement with the aggressor,” he added. “I really hope it’s waning now.”
Amid Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons, his claimed annexation of four other Ukrainian regions and a military escalation, the Polish and Baltic leaders again urged Western leaders not to blink.
“It’s also a battle of nerves,” said Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Linkevich. “The Russians are trying to figure out if they’ll be allowed to take over Ukraine, if we’re going to succumb to nuclear blackmail, or if we’re going to try to negotiate a deal to land for peace.”
Linkevich said Ukraine clearly needs air defenses to protect the country from Russian missile strikes on civilian targets and critical infrastructure such as power stations.
“I think that’s one of the things they’ve been calling for for weeks and months — more weapons of all kinds,” he said. “My bottom line is that we should give Ukraine everything they’re asking for.”
Landsbergis said Ukraine desperately needs tanks and aviation and air defense systems.
“We need to stop arguing about whether we should give Ukraine more weapons and everything we have that they can use, and they can use a lot,” he said.
Estonia and Latvia provide Ukraine more military aid per capita than any other country. The Baltic states and Poland are also the staunchest proponents of economic sanctions against Russia, although as neighbors, their own economies have been hit hardest by the measures that cut off business with a large market next door.
Since 2007, Western policy toward Russia has ignored clear signs of Russia’s path of revanchist imperialism and authoritarianism, said Christy Lake, director of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute at the International Center for Defense and Security.
“The failure of the West is that they don’t take it seriously, or think Russia is serious about it,” Lake said. “Then, when Russia became more aggressive and tried to impose its agenda, the West’s response was not to limit Russian aggression, but to make it clear that if Russia violated core principles of international security, there would be costs and consequences.”
A modest response from the West, especially after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, would only encourage Moscow, Lake said: “If the response were stronger, we might have avoided the situation we are in now, which is a full-scale war in Europe.”
She said Western restrictions on the types of weapons sent to Ukraine have not stopped Russia from escalating. “Russia is determined to win and destroy Ukraine’s independent statehood, and Russia is doing everything possible to achieve that,” she said. “Western restrictions on aid to Ukraine have not really improved the situation.”
Rinkevics said the West will have to significantly scale up military production in the coming years.
“Obviously the next 5 to 10 years are going to be very tough. We need equipment to replenish our inventory. We need more equipment for NATO members. We need equipment from Ukraine. I think we need to admit that this will be A protracted battle.”
The easternmost allies believe that unless the West gains a firm footing, Putin will defeat Ukraine and then possibly attack northern Kazakhstan in the coming years, expand control of the Caucasus or try to push the West further into Moldova or beyond.
“If he sees talk and no action at this point, then of course he will try to challenge NATO itself,” Linkevich said.
For Landsbergis, only a victory in Ukraine can ensure the security of his own country and others. “For all of us, they have to win,” he said.
Karas said only a show of force could stop Russian aggression and end the war. “The road to peace,” she said, “is to drive Russia out of Ukraine.”
Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, and Emily Rauhala in Brussels contributed to this report.